Reflection of a skiff in Button Bay, Churchill. Water clear and pristine. Katie de Meulles photo.
Polar bear swimming in the bay near Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
Close up of a polar bear swimming in the bay around Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
Polar bear resting on the rocks on Eskimo Point. Katie de Meulles photo.
Button Bay is the secluded little cove just around Eskimo Point where Fort Prince of Wales rests as the iconic outpost of the long-lost fur trade in the north. The rocks of Eskimo Point are resting areas for polar bears seeking some quiet and solitude during the summer months. Quite often groups of travelers can see and photograph polar bears on these rocky shores. These shots by Churchill photographer Katie de Meulles were captured this week and show the happenings around Button Bay.
A Field Report by Natural Habitat AdventuresExpedition Leader: Moira Le Patourel
We walked across the Churchill Airport tarmac towards the waiting plane, heading back to Winnipeg. The most incredible Churchill summer experience had played out for our little band of Natural Habitat Adventurer’s over the past five days. I have been travelling to Churchill with tour groups and enjoying the sub-Arctic wonders of this area for the past three years, but I had never had an experience quite like this one.
Snorkeling with the beluga whales in theCHurchill River. Moira la Patourel photo.
Our trip started off with an early morning flight from Winnipeg to Churchill in the sunshine. Over the next five days, our group enjoyed absolutely incredible encounters with belugas; in zodiacs, the Sea North II (a larger jet-drive vessel), in kayaks and even through a snorkel mask! We were able to watch belugas exhibiting playful behavior, feeding behavior, calm-day and stormy-day activities and listen in on their incredibly active social lives in the Churchill River and the Hudson’s Bay.
Beluga whales in the Churchill River.Moira LaPatourel photo.
We were also extremely lucky to spot not one but FOUR polar bears on our five-day adventure as well! Two lone individuals, one resting on Eskimo Point and one swimming about a mile off shore in Button Bay, and one mother and cub-of-the-year onshore. I couldn’t believe our luck! The wildflowers were bursting with colour all across the landscape, with more purples and creams than I have ever seen before; it was quite a sight to behold. The bird life was also out in full force; we enjoyed sightings of Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, Arctic Terns, Parasitic Jaegers, Pacific Loons with young, Snow Geese and an American Golden-Plover, to name a few.
Polar bears on the rocks at Eskimo point. Moira LaPatourel photo.
As we were headed to the airport for our departure, we were lucky enough to receive a tip from a local that the Polar Bear Holding Facility was open for tours for the next couple of hours. We only had 15 minutes to squeak in a look at the inside of the Holding Facility, but what a view it was! The Polar Bear Holding Facility has an open-house once a year, and we were just lucky enough to be there at just the right time!
As the Churchill River and the Hudson’s Bay faded out of view from the airplane windows, obscured by cloud, I looked around and could see the broad smiles on the faces of my travelling companions. This had truly been the trip of a lifetime in Churchill for all of us!
Churchill’s Arctic summer season for Natural Habitat Adventures groups has been incredibly exciting so far. Aside from the bountiful array of beluga whales in the Churchill River and Hudson Bay, there’s been some polar bear action out on Eskimo point just north of Fort Prince of Wales. This peninsula of land juts into the bay and the isostatic rebound over the years has caused the land to emerge from the water and grow in size.
Male polar bear holding his position on Eskimo Point. Moira Le Patourel photo.
The “point” has also become traditional resting spot for polar bears in the summer months and quite often mother’s and cubs are found there. Because it is somewhat isolated from the town, it may attract bears hoping to nab a seal or beluga whale venturing too close to shore. I have seen bears swimming across from Cape merry over the years and a couple of times we were able to approach them fairly closely in zodiacs.
Male polar bear on Eskimo Point. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Natural Habitat guide Moira Le Patourel and her group of travelers spotted three polar bears in this area just a few days ago. These were the first such sightings of this incredible Arctic summer campaign. The first healthy adult male polar bear was seen from Cape Merry with a spotting scope looking across to Eskimo Point. A little later the group was able to get up close in zodiacs during a whale watching excursion. What a way to see two of the largest animals in the Arctic at the same time.
Mother and her cub on the tip of Eskimo Point. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Continuing out into the crystal clear waters of the Hudson Bay, the group came to the tip of the point and was surprised by a mom and cub nestled in the rocks and enjoying a beautiful day in the north. Travelers were ecstatic with their fortune!
Travelers on this trip took advantage of the fantastic water clarity and engaged in some snorkeling with belugas in the Churchill River and kayaking with the whales as well. One tandem kayak had the incredible thrill of getting “fluked” as a beluga slapped the water with his tail as he submerged for a dive. Water cascaded over the travelers and their boats.
The icing on the was documenting 31 various bird species over the course of the trip. Highlights were a short-eared owl, northern goshawk, pacific loons and young, tundra swans and cygnets and an Arctic tern chick.
Sunset from the beach in Churchill. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Fireweed is beginning to bloom across the tundra and white mountain avens are fast disappearing…summer is already half over in Churchill!
Summer on the Churchill River is predominately for beluga whale watching. However, occasionally each season presents the amazing opportunity to view polar bears on the rocks around Cape Merry or Eskimo Point just north of Fort Prince of Wales across river. This video was filmed by Sea North Tours near Eskimo Point and the sow and cub polar bears are in clear view. What an unbelievable experience for all travelers lucky enough to be aboard the zodiacs in Churchill!
If you have been to Churchill you probably have heard of Button Bay. If you have been to Churchill in the Summer you might have even ventured by boat to the bay itself.
Sow and cub in the rocks off Eskimo Point. Stefanie Fernandez photo.
Button Bay lies northwest of Churchill just a short spin by zodiac around the tip of Eskimo Point and Fort Prince of Wales. From the fort you can gaze across the thickets of willows and wildflowers to the often glassy surface of the secluded inlet. It’s also possible to look across the Churchill River past Fort Prince of Wales on the point and see the glimmering surface of the bay.
In Button Bay the water is crystal clear and belugas are quite visible under water. Steve Selden photo.
The bay was commemorated by Sir Thomas Button in 1612 when he and the crew of the Resolution ventured to “New Wales”, as he named it for England. He is credited with securing the lands along the west coast of the Hudson Bay for England. The Nelson River estuary and Port Nelson within those lands, were named after the Master of the Resolution who perished on the journey and is buried there.
Sir Thomas Button.
On May 15, 1912, 300 years later, when Manitoba’s boundaries were extended, Port Nelson was included in the new territory designated to the province. Thomas Button is therefore known to be the first white man to visit this area in Manitoba.
Polar Bear along the coast of Button Bay. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Button Bay is a well known beluga whale hot spot in the summer. On the fairly rare occasions when whales are scarce in the Churchill River and mouth of the Hudson Bay, the 20 minute motor over to Button Bay usually produces pods of whales following the capelin run. On the journey by boat or zodiac, there’s always the chance of spotting a polar bear or two nestled along the rocky coast. I have often seen bears dipping paws into the bay or pulling up onto the rocks after a swim.
Button Bay is a little secret gem of the region. the bay itself is considered part of the Nunavut territory.